I-See-Dead-People (And They Make Me a Better Person!) Melodrama, CBS, Friday Nights

What’s it About? Full disclosure. This was my favorite pilot. By a long shot. Thematically rich, subtly acted (especially by a Patrick Wilson coming apart ever-so slightly at the seams), gorgeously shot, sumptuously paced, there was pretty much nothing I didn’t like about this pilot. One little subplot with a tennis superstar pushing her career over her health irked me a bit, but it was so small compared to this notion of reintroducing a long-lost spouse (who is also recently deceased!) and finding a missing piece of yourself that dominates this pilot. When judging the pilot as a whole, I so easily forgave it.

So why is “A Gifted Man” halfway down my list? Last post, I drew a line in the sand, saying “Up All Night” would be the last truly good show that we saw in the first week of premieres. And my favorite pilot is on the wrong side of that line?!? What kind of Scrooge am I? Someone needs to be visited by a kindly ghost and set straight, I tell you!

My problem is this: this show is going to be a procedural. Not all procedurals are uniformly bad, some are very good, but the promise shown in this pilot does not seem to match up with case-of-the-week shennanigans. “A Gifted Man” shouldn’t be a procedural, but, since this is CBS, it inevitably will be. It should be a linear story with some wild turns and an eventual final redemption, you know, kind of like A Christmas Carol — which this show basically is if you replace money lending with brain surgery and carolling street urching with underpriveledged Latino childrenbut, unless I’m
sorely mistaken, it won’t be. (This show would make a great British drama with
a short seven episode run, by the way. The wife is our erstwhile Scrooge’s Jacob Marley, setting him on the path to redemption, and then he’s visited by some other ghosts, and in a few short weeks we have our resolution and the doctor saves that one really important patient-in-need who we met in the first episode and who’s been deteriorating over the past six episodes but has become more and more sympathetic with each passing week. That’d be good. Yeah…) Unless CBS recaptures the narrative magic of “The Good Wife” and loosens it’s tie a little, this show will be a case-of-the-week ordeal about two doctors saving the patient-of-the-week I don’t care about, except one of those doctors is dead, and the other is a jerk… which is an interesting premise, I suppose, but not exactly what I want to invest in.

All that stuff about love and ghosts and shaman – that’ll still be in the background, sure. But I’m going to see a whole lot more of poorly fleshed out patients with neuroses and issues that will be resolved by the end of that week’s episode. I didn’t like the tennis-playing girl, and I’m about to get a whole giant dose of tennis-playing girl in the form of an endless carousel of meaningless patients-of-the-week that will show our Scrroge the error of his selfish, rich people ways. And that is not what I want right now.

(Note to CBS: I will be so happy if you prove me wrong, and the tennis playing girl comes back next episode and learns her lesson in a more stretched out continuity and the show takes off on some wild serialized adventure that makes me reevaluate the value of life and reaffirms my faith in humanity. So, um, keep that in mind CBS.)

On the Holiday Special Scale: 5 out of 10. I don’t see much potential for a classic holiday episode. I think a holiday episode from “A Gifted Man” will just fade into the background, just another heart-warming “Look what patient I saved on Christmas” thing. It’ll be too earnest. Once again, I’d love to be proven wrong, but, this show is basically A Christmas Carol, except the redemption’s already started and
it’s only September. The best part of A Christmas Carol is seeing how bad Scrooge can be, and on this show, Scrooge is already cuddly after the first chapter! God knows where we’ll be on the redemption scale by the time we get to Christmas… so… treacle alert! Be warned… and god bless us everyone!

On the Stupid Advertisement Scale: 10 out of 10. See above. This pilot had me captivated. I wonder where that captive state will lead me now. I’m a sucker for emotion, but I don’t want to be manipulated into the same story week after week. I want a coherent linear story, and I don’t feel like I’m going to get it – and I don’t feel like another doctor procedural is what our television culture needs right now.

However… None of this takes away from the pilot itself. Not one iota. I repeat: it is a great piece of television and I encourage you to watch it even if you don’t plan to stick with the series. (I’m almost inclined to encourage you to watch only if you don’t plan on watching the rest of the series.) Director Jonathan Demme gets a standing ovation for his work here. And a Perfect 10! Now, I don’t believe the series that this pilot has spawned will live up to the regal honor of this perfect 10 (you know every network is hoping to high heaven I’ll give them my Perfect 10 on the patented Stupid Advertisement From Hell Scale… right?) but a man can hope for a miracle, can’t he? That’s what this show’s about after all.